Dialogue with a Lutheran: Introductory Matters

Dialogue with a Lutheran: Introductory Matters October 12, 2011
(vs. Nathan Rinne)
Lutheran church in Wittenberg, Germany where the Protestant Revolt began, with Martin Luther [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license]
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Nathan Rinne (words in blue in this paper) is a friendly and able Lutheran apologist, with whom I have been having cordial discussions. He first showed up on my blog with a comment under a post of mine about Luther. Nathan then started expressing interest in replying to my (five) critiques of Martin Chemnitz. 

His reply is entitled, My reply to RC apologist Dave Armstrong, regarding his examination of Martin Chemnitz’s Examination. In the Introduction, he stated that I “will be answering it line-by-line on his blog.” That was predicated upon his being willing to critique my papers line-by-line. But he has only selectively replied:

Please know that in the lengthy reply to your posts on Chemnitz . . . which follows, I have only picked out those parts that seem to me most important (and I hope my confessional Lutheran brethren would agree).  I may very well have missed some important things I should not have. 


Therefore, I trust that I may be excused if I don’t reply to absolutely every jot and tittle. I will still likely respond to virtually all of his paper, though, because that is my usual method. I don’t think that his reply is truly a response to these five papers (technically speaking). It is a more wide-ranging and general critique of Catholic distinctives, and defense of the Lutheran worldview. My title reflects this.

I appreciate Nathan’s kind words at the beginning of his reply. I, too, have enjoyed our interactions a lot, and have respect for his work and his demeanor. It’s a true pleasure to take part in a non-acrimonious dialogue, in good faith, with two parties confident and secure in their positions (which generally means there is no need for desperate, evasive personal attacks; charges of lying, etc.). Such a phenomenon seems to be as rare as a square circle anymore online.

Sola Regula Fidei Veritas (True Rule of Faith Alone)
“The sword of God, which is the living Word of God, strikes through the things which men of their own accord, without the authority and testimonies of Scripture, invent and think up, pretending that it is apostolic tradition.” 
– Jerome, as cited in Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part 1, trans. Fred Kramer (St. Louis: Concordia, 1971), pp. 228–229.


We Catholics agree, since for us, apostolic tradition and Scripture must always be in harmony. The former can never contradict the latter. Note how St. Jerome specifically mentions “apostolic” tradition, over against false traditions of men (“of their own accord . . . invent and think up”). All he’s saying here is that non-apostolic traditions contradict Scripture. He is not denying that apostolic tradition is also authoritative and a norm of faith. Thus it is no evidence whatsoever of a sola Scriptura position (as Chemnitz probably intended it to be).

The same St. Jerome also wrote:

I will tell you my opinion briefly and without reserve. We ought to remain in that Church which was founded by the Apostles and continues to this day. If ever you hear of any that are called Christians taking their name not from the Lord Jesus Christ, but from some other, for instance, Marcionites, Valentinians, Men of the mountain or the plain, you may be sure that you have there not the Church of Christ, but the synagogue of Antichrist. For the fact that they took their rise after the foundation of the Church is proof that they are those whose coming the Apostle foretold. And let them not flatter themselves if they think they have Scripture authority for their assertions, since the devil himself quoted Scripture, and the essence of the Scriptures is not the letter, but the meaning. Otherwise, if we follow the letter, we too can concoct a new dogma and assert that such persons as wear shoes and have two coats must not be received into the Church.
“The apostles handed down many things orally; apostolic men received many things from the apostles by oral tradition which they on their part later delivered to their own disciples.  But Irenaeus says that all these things were “in agreement with the Scriptures”.  
– Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, Part 1, trans. Fred Kramer (St. Louis: Concordia, 1971), p 226.


Of course they are in agreement with the Bible. That is the Catholic position of the three-legged stool: Bible-Tradition-Church: all harmonious: all of a piece. Few fathers talked more about the sublime authority of apostolic succession and apostolic tradition than St. Irenaeus. He was no advocate of sola Scriptura. I maintain that it is special pleading to contend that any major Church father was such. I’ve never seen any evidence of it. For much more on St. Irenaeus’ view of authority and the rule of faith, see two papers from an Orthodox writer, Robert Arakaki:

Irenaeus of Lyons: Contending for the Faith Once Delivered

Response to Robin Phillips “Questions About St. Irenaeus and Apostolic Succession”

Many patristic passages where Scripture is extolled are falsely interpreted as proclaiming sola Scriptura (whole books have been put together on these lines), but it is not the case. To have a high view of Scripture is not the equivalent of making the Bible the sole infallible rule of faith.

“Holy Scripture is in such sort the rule of the Christian faith that we are obliged by every kind of obligation to believe most exactly all that it contains, and not to believe anything which may be ever so little contrary to it: for if Our Lord himself has sent the Jews to it to strengthen their faith, it must be a safe standard. The Sadducees erred because they did not understand the Scriptures . . .” 
– St. Francis de Sales, The Catholic Controversy. (1596), p. 88


Amen! This expresses the material sufficiency of Scripture, that I and most Catholics hold. We deny, on the other hand, the formal sufficiency of Scripture, which is sola Scriptura as the rule of faith. This was a 16th-century novel innovation that cannot be traced back to the fathers or apostles or the Bible itself.

Let me confess up front that I am a very ignorant man.


Then it shall be very easy going!!! Just teasing . . . 

I will try to not make assertions where I ought not, but I know I will fail.  I pray that God would guide us in this venture, and that I would not be too proud to learn what I ought to learn from you in this discussion. 


Likewise. I look at dialogue as an opportunity for both parties to learn and grow, and follow truth wherever it leads. To me, that is the excitement and utility of it. It’s not a means to belittle and put down the other person,with a goal to “win at all costs” (including the cost of forsaking truth). So we are on the same page in this respect. I believe that truth has an inherent power, and that those who sincerely seek it will indeed find it, by the enabling of God’s grace.

As Chemnitz says: “no one should rely on his own wisdom in the interpretation of Scripture, not even in the clear passages, for it is clearly written in 2 Peter 1:20: ‘The Scripture is not a matter of one’s private interpretation.’  And whoever twists the Holy Scripture so that it is understood according to his preconceived opinions does this to his own destruction (2 Peter 3:16)”.  


Amen again! And this immediately brings us to a discussion of what corporate interpretation means.  Lutherans go back to the authority of their confessions in the Book of Concord. But I say that they, in turn, have to be in line with apostolic (and Catholic) tradition, going all the way back, and that in fact they are not in accord with that, where they differ from Catholic teachings and doctrines. Lutherans have enough respect for the fathers to be concerned that their teachings are supported by them. I have not found this alleged patristic support to be the case, however, in my many debates with Lutherans about patristic views.

Let me begin by repeating the quote that I shared earlier from Paul Strawn, who is a fine Lutheran pastor, and I am honored to say is my pastor:

The concept of a contemporaneous existence of the Word of God in a corrupted verbal form, and a pure written form, spawned Chemnitz’s explanation of traditiones in the second locus, De traditionibus. Here he lists the first of eight different types of traditiones as Scripture itself, i.e. the things that Christ and the Apostles preached orally and were later written down. Then follows: 2) the faithful transmission of the Scriptures; 3) the oral tradition of the Apostles (which by its very nature must agree with the contents of the New Testament canon); 4) the proper interpretation of the Scriptures received from the Apostles and “Apostolic men”; 5) dogmas that are not set forth in so many words in Scripture but are clearly apparent from a sampling of texts; 6) the consensus of true and pure antiquity; 7) rites and customs that are edifying and believed to be Apostolic, but cannot be proved from Scripture. Chemnitz rejects only the eighth kind of tradition: [8] traditions pertaining to faith and morals that cannot be proved with any testimony of Scripture; but which the Council of Trent commanded to be accepted and venerated with the same reverence and devotion as the Scripture. The important element of this last of the traditiones appears not to be the fact that such traditions of faith and morals not provable from Scripture actually existed, but that their status of equality with Scripture was foisted upon the church by the Council of Trent.” P. Strawn, Cyril of Alexandria as a Source for Martin Chemnitz, in Die Patristik in der Bibelexegese des 16. Jahrhunderts, Wolfenbu”ttleler Forschungen, Bd. 85, Hrsg. v. David C. Steinmetz, Wiesbaden 1999, p. 213-14.

I want to focus on tradition number 8, the one Chemnitz rejects.  Notice the argument of Paul Strawn: the fact that these traditions existed was not necessarily the problem.  The problem was that these traditions regarding faith and morals which were not provable from Scripture were to be regarded as equal to those clearly demonstrable from Scripture.  I take this to mean that they were to be considered central or essential teachings – i.e. as going hand in hand with the rule of faith – and that a refusal to acknowledge them at such (see p. 296 of the Examen) would result in separating one’s self from the Church, and therefore Christ.  This Chemnitz rightly rejects (see p. 269 and 306 of the Examen)


This hinges on what is meant by “proved” from Scripture, and the criterion of “clearly demonstrable.” Those things are subjective, and reasonable men can disagree. The nature and scope of “proof” cannot simply be some tradition of men, itself unattached to biblical criteria. It seems to me that it has to be in harmony with biblical thought. Likewise, clarity or perspicuity is often arguable, concerning particular doctrines and how “proved” they are. I’ve written two books critiquing sola Scriptura (the latest one to be published by Catholic Answers next year). I haven’t seen any biblical proof at all of that doctrine. And I have seen much scriptural disproof of it and also an important component of it: perspicuity of Scripture. As I argued in my “Reply to Dr. Gene Veith on Catholic Mariology”:

We contend that all Catholic doctrines (including even the dreaded Marian ones) are present in Scripture, explicitly, implicitly, or clearly able to be deduced from either sort of evidence (material sufficiency).

There are different levels of such evidence. The Virgin Birth has but a few support passages. Original sin also has only a few. Yet both are firmly believed by Christians of all stripes. Original sin isn’t even mentioned in the Nicene Creed, and Cardinal Newman noted that there was far more support for purgatory in the fathers than for original sin.

Other things have to be (mostly or largely) deduced. Under this category would come things like the Two Natures of Christ. It’s in Scripture, assuredly, but has to be “teased” out of it by an examination of many passages together. Even the Holy Trinity is mostly of that nature. I have papers giving many hundreds of biblical proofs for the Trinity, but they are not always evident at first glance. As a result, Christology developed in the early Church for about 600 years: . . .

Other things are totally absent in Scripture, yet believed by Protestants, who claim to be “Scripture Alone” (as infallible authority). The canon of the Bible is the best and most undeniable example of that. Protestants are forced to accept a “fallible list of infallible books” — as R. C. Sproul has candidly admitted. And they have to rely on the (Catholic) Church authority that proclaimed the canon (minus the deuterocanon). Sola Scriptura is another. It’s found nowhere in Scripture.

. . . Nowhere does it say in Holy Scripture that the Bible only is the infallible guide and rule of faith, to the exclusion of an infallible Church or infallible apostolic tradition (which is precisely what the Protestant contention is). And the Bible contradicts it all over the place. But that doesn’t stop Protestants from believing it and basing their entire system of authority and method of theology on it: castles made of sand, like the old Jimi Hendrix song . . .

Denominations are nowhere found in the New Testament, which everywhere refers to one Church with one solid set of beliefs, that are non-negotiable. This is beyond all dispute. Many Protestant thinkers readily concede this, and lament it. Yet all Protestants live with the tension of the very existence of denominations being dead-set against what the Bible teaches about ecclesiastical authority and belief-systems of theological truth. . . .

Now, all that was my roundabout way of addressing the criticism that our Marian doctrines are supposedly not “in” the Bible. They certainly are: just not (usually) explicitly, or sometimes (as in the Assumption) not implicitly, either, and able only to be deduced from other things. But this shouldn’t pose any problem for the Protestant (unless we adopt double standards) because, as I’ve shown, they believe many things that are only infrequently indicated in the Bible or not at all. Neither the canon issue nor the denominational scandal ever seem to cause any Protestants to reject their own system.

So that is one reply: we reject the double standard whereby you guys believe all that (and other things, too) with small or no biblical support, while at the same time demanding hyper-biblical-support for every one of our doctrines, as if we don’t have it and you do for absolutely everything you believe and even make a “pillar” of your system.

The second answer is that explicit support is not required anyway, because the Bible never teaches that: that every doctrine must be explicitly indicated in the Bible and nowhere else. If we are fully “biblical” that notion is completely absent. So why follow it? Well, because it is an entrenched, arbitrary tradition of man, is what it amounts to. [last italics added presently]

I add now, that this notion Chemnitz has, that a doctrine more explicitly indicated in Scripture is automatically superior to one that is less explicitly or only implicitly  indicated (or, as he would say, absent altogether, when often this is debatable), is itself a concept that Scripture (to my knowledge) never asserts. So where does it come from? Well, it is a deduction of a notion that is itself not able to be proved from Scripture: sola Scriptura. Chemnitz is thus relying heavily on an arbitrary, unbiblical notion of men that is based on another presupposition that is an arbitrary, unbiblical notion of men. If anyone doubts this, then I would challenge him to find where in Chemnitz he explains and defends the rationale or basis for this notion; on what basis does he hold it in the first place? Where is his biblical proof?

What Catholics would regard as perfectly harmonious with Scripture; therefore, “biblical”; Chemnitz would reject as “unbiblical.” It comes down to a matter of definition and criteria for levels of “proof” or demonstration. In the end, each doctrine will have to be gone through individually, to establish if it is sufficiently “biblical.” That is my apologetic specialty, so I’d be glad — more than happy — to do that. Every time I’ve set out to find biblical indication of a Catholic doctrine, I’ve found it. Relative strength or weakness may be debated, but I found something every time.

I will continue returning to this theme throughout my paper, because I think this is the central point.


Then I will expect you to give individual examples of doctrines supposedly entirely missing from the Bible, and then you’ll have to interact with my arguments that they are present. It’s not enough to merely make the assertion. Now you will have to demonstrate it and interact with rebuttals. Protestants make the bald claims all the time, but when asked or challenged to defend their assertions, oftentimes it is a far different story, with much less confidence exhibited, for some reason.

In a nutshell, here is my contention: The best and most faithful of the Apostolic Fathers (i.e. the most Apostolic among them) believed that all essential doctrines – for all practical purposes, the Rule of Faith – could be proven with Scripture, even if they did hold to other (non-binding) teachings as well.  


Again, it all comes down to what you mean by “proven with Scripture,” and how you arrive at this determination; then it is a matter of examining relevant patristic passages. You may assume this means sola Scriptura, which we reject, while I would argue that it is material sufficiency, which we accept.

For example, Irenaeus essentially says that the Rule of Faith is “in agreement with the Scriptures”.


He does not! To say that true doctrine agrees with Scripture does not contradict the Catholic position at all. This is what he believed (see my three links above). He doesn’t make sola Scriptura (Scripture as the only infallible norm and standard of faith or belief) the rule of faith: that is a whole ‘nother ball of wax. This is a factual matter, and it is easy to prove that St. Irenaeus held a thoroughly Catholic view, not proto-Lutheran or any kind of proto-Protestant view. I’ve already provided several proofs of that, and I have more in my third critique of Chemnitz and also some twenty pages in my book, Catholic Church Fathers (I will send you a free e-book copy via e-mail).

We must take very seriously these own men’s words about the primacy and centrality of Scripture for those legitimately ordained men holding to the true Rule of Faith.  Forgiveness, life, and salvation are at stake.


Yes, we must — rightly interpreted. We can’t simply anachronistically read in our views. I shall cite two prominent Lutherans with regard to this general point:

As regards the pre-Augustinian Church, there is in our time a striking convergence of scholarly opinion that Scripture and Tradition are for the early Church in no sense mutually exclusive: kerygma, Scripture and Tradition coincide entirely. The Church preaches the kerygma which is to be found in toto in written form in the canonical books.The Tradition is not understood as an addition to the kerygma contained in Scripture but as the handing down of that same kerygma in living form: in other words everything is to be found in Scripture and at the same time everything is in the living Tradition. It is in the living, visible Body of Christ, inspired and vivified by the operation of the Holy Spirit, that Scripture and Tradition coinhere . . . Both Scripture and Tradition issue from the same source: the Word of God, Revelation . . . Only within the Church can this kerygma be handed down undefiled . . . 

(Heiko Oberman, The Harvest of Medieval Theology, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, revised 1967, 366-367)

Clearly it is an anachronism to superimpose upon the discussions of the second and third centuries categories derived from the controversies over the relation of Scripture and tradition in the 16th century, for ‘in the ante-Nicene Church . . . there was no notion of sola Scriptura, but neither was there a doctrine of traditio sola.’. . . (1)The apostolic tradition was a public tradition . . . So palpable was this apostolic tradition that even if the apostles had not left behind the Scriptures to serve as normative evidence of their doctrine, the church would still be in a position to follow ‘the structure of the tradition which they handed on to those to whom they committed the churches (2).’ This was, in fact, what the church was doing in those barbarian territories where believers did not have access to the written deposit, but still carefully guarded the ancient tradition of the apostles, summarized in the creed . . .   The term ‘rule of faith’ or ‘rule of truth’ . . . seems sometimes to have meant the ‘tradition,’ sometimes the Scriptures, sometimes the message of the gospel . . . In the . . . Reformation . . . the supporters of the sole authority of Scripture . . . overlooked the function of tradition in securing what they regarded as the correct exegesis of Scripture against heretical alternatives.

(Jaroslav Pelikan, The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine: Vol.1 of 5: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600), Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, pp. 115-17, 119; citations: 1. In Cushman, Robert E. and Egil Grislis, editors, The Heritage of Christian Thought: Essays in Honor of Robert Lowry Calhoun, New York: 1965, quote from Albert Outler, “The Sense of Tradition in the Ante-Nicene Church,” p. 29. 2. St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:4:1)

Likewise, Anglican church historian J. N. D. Kelly:

It should be unnecessary to accumulate further evidence.Throughout the whole period Scripture and tradition ranked as complementary authorities, media different in form but coincident in content. To inquire which counted as superior or more ultimate is to pose the question in misleading terms. If Scripture was abundantly sufficient in principle, tradition was recognized as the surest clue to its interpretation, for in tradition the Church retained, as a legacy from the apostles which was embedded in all the organs of her institutional life, an unerring grasp of the real purport and meaning of the revelation to which Scripture and tradition alike bore witness.

(Early Christian Doctrines, San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978, 47-48)

In other words, if these men had been challenged by heresies that took teachings they had never questioned as being non-essential too far (in a way that endangered the proper teaching of Christ, grace, and faith), they would have gone back to the Scriptures, and begin the process of righting their wrongs.

Indeed, they did do so. They went to Scripture first, and made the appropriate arguments. If the heretic was still obstinate, their trump card was to appeal to the authority of the unbroken apostolic tradition of the Church.

Here is how I will conclude:

The fullness of the Rule of Faith is often only known tacitly (and will, of course, be confirmable in Scripture – when one finally looks with the right questions and problems in mind: “[the Rule of Faith’s] contents coincided with those of the Bible [for Origin]” [-J.N.D. Kelley]).


Material vs. formal sufficiency distinction . . . 

It takes the circumstances of history to “draw out” further explicit content, that is, essential doctrine, starting with the ecumenical creeds and including also the doctrine of justification.  We have begun to really understand, even as we long to understand more (for example, objectively speaking, passages like Isaiah 53 really are clearly about Jesus Christ, even if that knowledge has not become clear or fully dawned in the faithful).


Development of doctrine is necessary and inevitable for all doctrines. It’s my favorite theological topic, and was the largest persuasive factor in my conversion to Catholicism.

As regards this drawing out of essential doctrine, the matter of interpretation is involved (note also: “[for Origin, the Rule of Faith] was formally independent of the Bible, and also included the principles of Biblical interpretation ” [-J.N.D. Kelley]).  Here you will recall what I said earlier about how the Berean’s treatment of the Scriptures in Acts 17 plays out on the ground: a) their gut impulse is to go to those formal Scriptures held to by believers and test…. and b) things they may not have seen before they clearly are able to locate after Paul has preached and taught.


Interpretation had to be within the matrix of the Church’s orthodox theology.  

Lactanius said: “For the contest [over who is the true Catholic Church] is respecting life and salvation, which, unless it is carefully and diligently kept in view, will be lost and extinguished.” (as you quoted him)  So again, where is the Church?  I like how Douglas Johnson puts it:  “Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is at the heart of all the great controversies that shook the Early church as it tried to work out its own self-understanding”.  Indeed, and in the Reformation, we simply see the continuing of this process.


Salvation by grace alone (over against Pelagianism) is biblical, apostolic, and patristic teaching, not salvation by faith alone (a Protestant novelty). 

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  • David,

    Thanks much. I think I'll hold off on doing a reply for now – until you've got all three parts up.

    Sorry about not answering it line-by-line. I read it line-by-line. Does that count? : )

    I'd also like to put your whole response up on my blog the way you have it (nicely color coated and all), but I'm not sure how I could do that (unless there is some easy html way to do it) – maybe I have to pay something to wordpress to get color… : )

    Best regards,

  • "all 3 parts" – not sure where this came from, all of the parts (how ever many there will be).


  • Hi Nathan,

    If it works like Blogger, you should just be able to select and paste the entire thing to your site. But it may not work.

  • David,

    On second thought, I should say some words now, before you do subsequent parts (I am guessing from this first response that you may not have read the whole thing before starting to go through it line-by-line – at least that is the impression I get from this first response). Again, please know my time is limited…

    First, thanks for the complements. I hope I live up to them (by the grace of God).

    Second, in case it was not clear, the title of the paper: “True Rule of Faith Alone” is meant to refer to Chemnitz’s traditions 3-7, not 1 and 2. I am not equating “Sola Rule of Faith” with “Sola Scriptura” . I am saying that they are independent of one another – they are really two things that can be considered distinct. I suppose one may speak loosely of Scripture as being the Rule of Faith, as Pelikan does (who you cite in favor of your position), but I do not even think that is really the way to go. In reality, I am making the case that really, Chemnitz does not, strictly speaking, believe in Sola Scriptura – certainly in the modern “general Protestant” sense. In fact, I think one can make a strong case that he does not really hold to “Sola Scriptura” in any sense, at least insofar as this means that the Rule of Faith is not, on the ground (practically speaking), of like authoritative weight. “Sola Scriptura” may be handy shorthand for revealing some major distinctions (particularly variations of how one generally interacts with the Scriptures) in a simple but unrefined way between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, but I think that is all it is.

    Third, I had quoted Chemnitz saying of Irenaeus (who is quoted in Eusebius – here is the whole context:

    ““The apostles handed down many things orally; apostolic men received many things from the apostles by oral tradition which they on their part later delivered to their own disciples. But Irenaeus says that all these things were “in agreement with the Scriptures”.”

    And you said: “Of course they are in agreement with the Bible. That is the Catholic position of the three-legged stool: Bible-Tradition-Church: all harmonious: all of a piece.”

    Are you using the words “agreement” and “harmony” in a more or less synonymous fashion? I think whether something is in agreement with something else is usually pretty straightforward (clear). I contend that “harmony” is a different matter though. Harmony, it seems to me, points to many things that are not the same at all but go together in a way that produces one thing that greater than the sum of its parts – parts which are complementary, but not the same in any real sense. Further, when we are not talking specifically about music, I think it is more difficult to really tell when something is harmonious: I suggest that it is quite easy for something to appear to be in harmony with something else when it really is not. According to you, apostolic tradition can never contradict the Scriptures. Certainly, you would say that it cannot express the opposite of propositions in Scripture – nor can it deny them in any way. Nor would you, I believe, say that it can be contrary to, or inconsistent with the Scriptures. But again, many things can appear to be harmonious, or consistent, when they are not. You say, “The nature and scope of "proof" cannot simply be some tradition of men, itself unattached to biblical criteria” and I agree, but I also submit that we can be easily taken in by things that are do not deserve to be reverenced equally with those things that are more clearly displayed. Stuff that has a semblance of plausibility can be added to the Scriptures – and then made essential doctrine whereby those who do not comply – and who do not think they can comply (by their consciences) – are to be found outside the door of the Ark. And all I can think about is “Do not go beyond what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other”….

  • …In addition, you say of Chemnitz that he has the notion that “a doctrine more explicitly indicated in Scripture is automatically superior to one that is less explicitly or only implicitly indicated (or, as he would say, absent altogether, when often this is debatable)” and you say that some doctrines are in the Bible explicitly, some implicitly, and some ((like the Assumption of Mary) that are only able to be deduced from other things. You go on to say: “this shouldn’t pose any problem for the Protestant (unless we adopt double standards) because, as I’ve shown, they believe many things that are only infrequently indicated in the Bible or not at all. Neither the canon issue nor the denominational scandal ever seem to cause any Protestants to reject their own system.”

    First of all, I do not think you are right to say that Chemnitz has the notion that explicitly revealed doctrine is of greater worth than implicitly revealed doctrine (it would however, be true to say that both of these doctrines would be superior to those that are only able to be deduced from other things – from things that some find convincing and others simply struggle to find – at least in a way that creates certainty in their hearts). You may be confusing this with Lutheran hermeneutics, which deal with principles of interpretation taken from Augustine (about Scripture interpreting Scripture, and clear passages guiding us in the interpretation of unclear ones….). Since Lutherans uphold infant baptism as a central and essential doctrine (as well as infant regeneration of baptism, which the Reformed deny), this can hardly be the case. Later on in the paper, I show how Chemnitz uses the Fathers to prove infant baptism – i.e. not only should we have the principles that Scripture interprets Scripture, but we should also realize that the Fathers interpret Scripture, i.e. their words make clear to us things that might not initially be clear on a first reading of the Scriptures. Regarding the issue of double-standards, this does not apply to Lutherans because we agree that denominations are not the will of God (contra many of the Reformed) and we also do not make any ironclad pronouncements about the Bible being so many books. There is no essential doctrine that says how many books we must have. Really, I would argue that it is enough to simply have the books that the whole early church was agreed on as Scripture, primarily of course, Paul’s letters and the Gospels. I believe all essential doctrine can be found therein.

    All this said, I am also confused by this exchange:

    I said: For example, Irenaeus essentially says that the Rule of Faith is “in agreement with the Scriptures”.

    You said: “He does not! To say that true doctrine agrees with Scripture does not contradict the Catholic position at all. This is what he believed (see my three links above). He doesn't make sola Scriptura (Scripture as the only infallible norm and standard of faith or belief) the rule of faith.”

    When you say “he does not” I don’t really know what you are responding to (again keep in mind that I think it is clear that Chemnitz’s position cannot be reduced to “Sola Scriptura”, given the presence of traditions 3-7, which he so ably discusses)

    Finally, maybe I am missing something here, but it seems clear to me that the Oberman, Pelikan, and J.N.D. Kelly quotes all support the argument that I am making. Perhaps you could explain more thoroughly why you do not think that they do.

    Best regards,


  • David,

    I will not be able to be back here for a few days now.

    In Christ!

  • Here is the full-text of the letter of Irenaeus that Chemnitz quotes from. It is very interesting!:

    (see pp. 238 and 239):


    It also makes me pause regarding my statements about agreement and harmony…. here, "agreement" is translated "harmony". I guess they can be synonymous, but it also seems to me that harmony can have a very expansive meaning as well. Well, perhaps agreement can as well then…

    Still, the context of this letter seems to indicate that the Apostolic teachings that Polycarp heard were all clearly to be found in the Bible…

    Why is it not reasonable to conclude that Ireneaus is assuming that the person to whom he writes (Florinus) should be able to discover this himself by looking at the words of the texts of Scripture?

  • We can get bogged down on all kinds of side issues here. I need to make my full counter-reply first.

    Bottom line is one's view of the Church. As far as I know, all Protestants deny that the Church is an infallible authority. They make Scripture the sole infallible authority. This is the definition of sola Scriptura. I highly doubt that Chemnitz will be found to be any different, in the final analysis. Once a person denies that attribute to the Church, it is pure Protestantism, and a new rule of faith.

    I looked through Chemnitz and he claims that he believes in the indefectibility of the Church, but it seems that he has to redefine the Church in order to do so. Typically of Protestants, he simply assumes that the historic Catholic Church lost its way and is no longer a true Church (or the most "pure" line or whatever). That all remains to be proven. Neither Luther nor Chemnitz has demonstrated this.

    The burden for the Lutheran who cares about history is to show how the Catholic Church supposedly went off the rails (which is impossible, because indefectibility was promised in Scripture) and/or why Lutheranism is supposedly the superior choice.

    If you go the "invisible church" route, you forsake historical criteria as always understood all through Church history. If you argue in terms of visible Church, you have a host of other (never-ending) epistemological and ecclesiological problems.

    Lutherans redefine apostolic succession as well, in a way quite different from how it was always understood.

    There are problems any way you look at it. But it seems to me that Chemnitz has to echo Luther's stand: if the Catholic Church says x and he disbelieves x (based — allegedly — on "clear" scripture, etc., etc.), then he rebels and rejects Church authority. This is what it means to be a Protestant. Private judgment is supreme.

    Lip service can be given to Church and tradition and the fathers but in the end the individual can always revolt and go their own way. It's the very essence of the Protestant Revolt and Luther (and the Lutheranism that followed).

    Formula of Concord, Part I: Epitome, asserts sola Scriptura:

    ". . . Holy Scripture remains the ONLY judge, rule, and norm according to which as the only touchstone all doctrines should and must be understood and judged as good or evil, right or wrong."

    This excludes both the Church and apostolic tradition from the equation of final authority, and is the classic sola Scriptura position, that virtually all Protestants adhere to. It is a radical departure from Scripture, the fathers, and previous unbroken Christian tradition.

    The same teaching is repeated in Part II: Sandy, oops, Solid Declaration; Summary Formulation:

    ". . . the only true norm according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated."

    The unbiblical invisible church notion is espoused in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Articles VII and VIII: The Church:

    ". . . the church in the proper sense is the assembly of saints who truly believe the Gospel of Christ and who have the Holy spirit."

    In practice, this inevitably reduces to theological relativism and ecclesiological chaos, because it is, in the end, subjective mush.

    These things are real, but when it comes to deciding who truly has the Holy Spirit, who believes the gospel, what the gospel is, then we are back to doctrine and must rely on authority, because men endlessly differ in interpreting the Bible.

  • The 4th Council of Constantinople (869-870) decreed about Roman Primacy (and hence about the government of the Church):

    341 Can. 21. We, believing that the word of the Lord which Christ spoke to His Apostles and disciples: "Who receives you, receives Me" [ Matt. 10:40 ]: "and who spurns you, spurns me" [ Luke 10:16], was said to all, even to those who after them according to them have been made Supreme Pontiffs and chiefs of the pastors, declare that absolutely no one of the powerful of this world may try to dishonor or move from his throne anyone of those who are in command of the patriarchial sees, but that they judge them worthy of all reverence and honor; especially indeed the most holy Pope of senior Rome; next the Patriarch of Constantinople; then certainly of Alexandria and of Antioch and of Jerusalem; but that no one compose or prepare any writings and words against the most holy Pope of older Rome under the pretext, as it were, of some evil crimes, a thing which both Photius did recently, and Dioscorus long ago.

    Whoever, moreover, shall use such boasting and boldness that following Photius or Dioscorus, in writings or without writings he may arouse certain injuries against the See of Peter, the chief of the Apostles, let him receive the equal and same condemnation as those. But if anyone enjoying some secular power or being influential should try to depose the above mentioned Pope of the Apostolic Chair or any of the other Patriarchs, let him be anathema. But if the universal Synod shall have met, and there will have arisen even concerning the holy church of the Romans any doubt or controversy whatever, it is necessary with veneration and with fitting reverence to investigate and to accept a solution concerning the proposed question, either to offer to have offered but not boldly to declare an opinion contrary to the Supreme Pontiffs of senior Rome.

    (13) If anyone should employ such daring as, like Photius and Dioscorus, in writings or without writings, to rouse certain inquiries against the See of Peter, the chief of the Apostles, let him receive the same condemnation as those; but if, when the ecumenical synod has met, any doubt arises even about the church of the Romans, it is possible to make an investigation reverently and with fitting respect concerning the question at hand, and to accept the solution either to be assisted or to assist, but not boldly to deliver (an opinion) contrary to the Supreme Pontiffs of senior Rome.

    (Denzinger 341)


    The one visible, hierarchical Catholic Church with bishops, apostolic succession, councils, had long since been established. We see it in operation already in the Bible (Jerusalem Council and a host of indications of Petrine Primacy: the kernels of the papacy).

    There are all sorts of instances of papal authority in the first millennium: one of the most notable being the acts of Pope Leo the Great at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.